When he was named special counsel in May, Robert S. Mueller III was hailed as the ideal lawman - deeply experienced, strait-laced and nonpartisan - to investigate whether President Trump’s campaign had helped with Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
But, in a surprisingly 'fair and balanced' LA Times story, David Willman exposes the truth that, at 73, Mueller’s record also shows a man of fallible judgment who can be slow to alter his chosen course. At times, he has intimidated or provoked resentment among subordinates. And his tenacious yet linear approach to evaluating evidence led him to fumble the biggest U.S. terrorism investigation since 9/11.
Willmann points out the accolades squared with Mueller’s valor as a Marine rifle platoon commander in Vietnam and his integrity as a federal prosecutor, a senior Justice Department official and FBI director from 2001 to 2013, the longest tenure since J. Edgar Hoover.
He was praised by former courtroom allies and opponents, and by Democrats and Republicans in Congress.
But, as Willmann details, Mueller also is remembered for a headline-grabbing case that ended in failure.
In 1979, the government lodged then-novel racketeering charges against 33 members of the Hells Angels motorcycle club. The indictments alleged bombings and murders as well as the manufacture and sale of illegal drugs. The defendants and their supporters were so feared that bulletproof glass was installed in court to shield the judge. The first trial, of 18 defendants, ended with only five convictions. All were overturned on appeal. Mueller, who led the U.S. attorney’s special prosecutions unit, then took over the case. He dropped many of the charges, including against Ralph “Sonny” Barger, leader of the club’s Oakland chapter, whose charismatic testimony had dominated the first trial.
Mueller led a team of four prosecutors in court when the second trial, with 11 defendants, began in October 1980. But after four months, the jury said it was deadlocked, and the judge declared a mistrial. Mueller decided not to ask for a retrial.
Richard B. Mazer, a defense lawyer at both trials, said the government was unable to prove the Hells Angels was a racketeering enterprise. Key prosecution witnesses, he said, seemed unreliable — especially those granted immunity to testify despite having committed violent crimes themselves.
“They made a mess of it,” Mazer recalled. “It was an entirely snitch case. It depended entirely on the quality of snitches.”
Following this failure, Mueller returned to private practice.
Then in 1998 after President Clinton appointed him U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California.
In July 2001, President George W. Bush nominated him as FBI director, and he won unanimous Senate confirmation.
Mueller asked the White House for a delay, however, so he could undergo treatment for prostate cancer.
His first day on the job was Sept. 4, 2001 - a week before hijacked airliners slammed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania in the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.
At 7 a.m. Sept. 12, Mueller, then-Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft and other officials arrived for an emergency briefing at the FBI’s operations center. The senior agent had been given an hour to prepare while investigators were still combing airline manifests and scouring crash sites.
When Mueller asked a rapid-fire series of questions, the agent replied that accurate information was not yet “established.”
“ ‘I want answers, goddamn it!’ ” Mueller exploded, an official who was present recalled.
Mueller already was coming under siege from critics who questioned why the FBI had not prevented the 9/11 attacks. Fear spread of a “second wave” terrorist strike.
Mueller countered by announcing plans to reshape the FBI. Its first priority would be to prevent another terrorist attack - not conventional law enforcement.
The enormity of the FBI’s challenge emerged within weeks, when a handful of letters, laced with powdered anthrax, killed five people and sickened 17 others.
The government closed congressional office buildings, the Supreme Court and postal facilities as the country braced for further biological terrorism.
But Mueller’s FBI struggled for nearly seven years to determine who was responsible - even as he personally managed the case from headquarters.
“The director was always the leader of the anthrax investigation, period,” said Michael Mason, former head of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.
The FBI focused on Steven Hatfill, a virologist at the U.S. Army’s laboratories at Ft. Detrick, Md. In January 2003, Mueller assured Congressional leaders in a closed-door briefing that bloodhounds had traced anthrax from the attacks to Hatfill.
But Hatfill had no experience handling anthrax. Nor did he have access to anthrax stored at Ft. Detrick or elsewhere. Years later, the FBI would reject the bloodhound evidence as unreliable.
After media leaks fingered Hatfill, he sued the FBI and the Justice Department on privacy grounds.
In June 2008, the government agreed to pay Hatfill about $5.8 million.
Two months later, on Aug. 6, Mueller summoned senior investigators and prosecutors on the anthrax case to his seventh-floor office. The FBI would hold a news conference that afternoon, and he wanted to recap the case’s stunning denouement. Bruce E. Ivins, an Army microbiologist at Ft. Detrick who specialized in handling anthrax, had committed suicide after his lawyers informed him he was about to be charged with murder for the letter attacks.
Evidence showed Ivins had created and held custody of a batch of anthrax traced by DNA to each of the killings. Ivins had spent hours alone in specially equipped labs just before each batch of letters was mailed.
Mueller let others hold the news conference. Some aides who met Mueller that day think he was reluctant to publicly address the missteps with Hatfill, the bloodhounds and the long delay in focusing on Ivins.
“I think he was personally embarrassed,” said one. “I would assess him as someone that can’t accept the fact that he screwed up.”
But, as Willmann notes, at FBI headquarters, protecting the director from embarrassment was ingrained.
A case in point unfolded in 2011 - just as the Senate was considering President Obama’s request to extend Mueller’s expiring term as FBI director by two years.
The FBI’s Inspection Division, a unit that scrutinizes bureau operations, conducted a three-week examination of the Directorate of Intelligence, a unit that Mueller created to carry out the shift in preventing terrorism.
“They inspected it, and they wrote the inspection report and it said the whole thing’s broken — set it on fire and start from scratch,” said a former official familiar with the report.
Another ex-official confirmed the account.
Mueller’s top aides saw peril in following normal procedure - forwarding the report to the Justice Department’s inspector general for possible follow-up action.
“It was, ‘The director will get skewered. We’ve got to protect him, and we can’t issue this,’ ” the former official recalled.
The aides kept the report in-house, the former official said, by tweaking its language.
As Caitlin Johnstone concluded last week, we know from the Snowden leaks on the NSA, the CIA files released by WikiLeaks, and the ongoing controversies regarding FBI surveillance that the US intelligence community has the most expansive, most sophisticated and most intrusive surveillance network in the history of human civilization.
Following the presidential election last year, anonymous sources from within the intelligence community were hemorrhaging leaks to the press on a regular basis that were damaging to the incoming administration.
If there was any evidence to be found that Donald Trump colluded with the Russian government to steal the 2016 election using hackers and propaganda, the US intelligence community would have found it and leaked it to the New York Times or the Washington Post last year.
Mueller isn’t going to find anything in 2017 that these vast, sprawling networks wouldn’t have found in 2016. He’s not going to find anything by “following the money” that couldn’t be found infinitely more efficaciously via Orwellian espionage. The factions within the intelligence community that were working to sabotage the incoming administration last year would have leaked proof of collusion if they’d had it. They did not have it then, and they do not have it now. Mueller will continue finding evidence of corruption throughout his investigation, since corruption is to DC insiders as water is to fish, but he will not find evidence of collusion to win the 2016 election that will lead to Trump’s impeachment. It will not happen.
Russia-gate's Shaky Doundation - The Russia-gate hysteria now routinely includes rhetoric about the U.S. being at “war” with nuclear-armed Russia, but the shaky factual foundation continues to show more cracks, as historian Daniel Herman describes.
Russigate Is More Fiction Than Fact - From accusations of Trump campaign collusion to Russian Facebook ad buys, the media has substituted hype for evidence.
The Big Fat Compendium Of Russiagate Debunkery - Russiagate is like a mirage: from a distance it looks like something, but once you move in for a closer look, there’s nothing there. Nothing. Nothing solid, nothing substantial, nothing you can point at and say, “Here it is."
When I converse with Russiagaters, that’s generally what this boils down to... “Impeach Trump” is a punishment in search of a crime. They’ve been whipped into a frenzied state of fear by establishment psyops, and they want Mueller to pull a deus ex machina and save them from the evil orange monster. They believe Mueller will get Trump impeached for Russian collusion because they badly want to.
It’s not going to happen, though. Deus ex Mueller isn’t coming. You’re going to have to solve your country’s problems yourselves, America.